Facebook has unveiled a change to its ‘real name’ policy in wake of criticism from transgender people and abuse victims. From now on Facebook will ask users who want to remain anonymous for an explanation, and will not forcibly change their names.
Documents to prove your identity are also not required if other users interact with your account in a realistic way based on your current identity. In the past Facebook required you to prove your identity, based on official birth documents.
Before today victims of domestic or online abuse, drag queens and transgender people felt shut out of the world’s largest social network, because they were frightened of revealing their official identities. From today if someone wants to hide their identity on Facebook for a legitimate reason, they are given the chance by the expanding social network, so that they don’t feel victimized.
The Evening Standard reports:
Transgender people and those fleeing online or domestic abuse were among the groups that had complained about the rule.
A group of drag performers used the hashtag #MyNameIs to draw attention to what they claimed was a problem of “malicious” reporting of supposedly fake names.
A petition to get Facebook to change its rules attracted tens of thousands of signatures.
“Many Facebook users use names that are not their ‘legal names’ to help protect their privacy and anonymity, with good reason,” it read.
“Victims of abuse, trans people, queer people who are not able to be safely ‘out’ and performers alike need to be able to socialise, connect, and build communities on social media safely.
“Forcing us to use our ‘real’ names opens the door to harassment, abuse, and violence.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Facebook said: “After hearing feedback from our community, we recognise it’s also important that this [real names] policy works for everyone, especially for communities who are marginalised or face discrimination.
“That’s why we’re continuing to make improvements in this area.”
The features being tested from this week include a new form for users to report people who are not using their real names.
Facebook now requires more complex information from the complainant, whereas before it was just a matter of ticking a box.
Secondly, when people are challenged over their Facebook names, they will be able to tell Facebook about any “special circumstance”.
Users will have seven days to access their profile while disputing the challenge, says The Guardian:
The new system will ask people who are reporting users for having fake names to provide more information about why they are filing a report, including a required text box to write specific details. Critics of the policy have long suspected that they were targeted by users guilty of the same bullying behavior Facebook said its ban on anonymity was meant to prevent.
People whose profiles are flagged after going through this reporting process are presented with options to explain their situation, including: “affected by abuse, stalking or bullying” and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer”.
And instead of immediately suspending people whose profiles are reported for having a false name, users will have seven days to access their profile while disputing the challenge.
Before, the site could change people’s names without their consent; now they cannot.
Facebook has also responded to criticism about requiring people to give the company forms of identification to prove their name because these documents did not always reflect the preferred name of the user.
The company said it is expanding how many documents people can use for this part of the process but that it is also taking advantage of the mass of information it has on users to expedite the entire process. For instance, if the company can see that people use a name over and over again on a user’s birthday, then that is the name they are best known by and the identification documents may not be needed.
“We want to create the best experience that we can for everyone, and we will continue to make improvements until everyone can use the name that their friends and family know them by,” Gage and Osofsky’s post said.
The company is holding a community forum in San Francisco on Tuesday night to discuss the changes.
Lil Miss Hot Mess, who has been leading the campaign to change the policy, said it was great to see Facebook make such “substantive changes”.
She said that the new reporting process could greatly reduce bullying and praised changes to the identification verification process.
“That said, we need to make sure this works for a variety of communities – including domestic violence survivors, Native Americans and African Americans, political activists, and people outside the US – and not just LGBT people,” Lil Miss Hot Mess said. “We won’t be satisfied, or stop campaigning, until we stop hearing from folks who have been locked out.”
Facebook apologized in October 2014 to people who had been negatively affected by the rules, but the drag queen coalition criticized the company a year later for failing to make substantive changes to its policy.
Critics grew to include rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union of California and Human Rights Watch. They formed the Nameless Coalition to protest the policy because it “has facilitated harassment, silencing, and even physical violence towards its most vulnerable users”.
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